Yemen: Yemen Under Siege


January 13, 2024: The Iran-backed Shia rebels (Houthi) are losing but refuse to make peace, in part because of continued Iranian support and partly out of fear of the consequences. Yemen has proved to be an embarrassment for Iran and the Saudi/UAE backed legitimate Yemen government. The other Arabs are not willing to suffer the heavy casualties a quick victory against the Shia Houthi rebels would require. Houthi is the name of the Yemen Shia tribe leading the rebellion.

The war dragged on into 2024 and won’t end until Iran halts its support. There are growing anti-government protests in Iran about this. Iran’s expensive foreign wars in Syria and Yemen are unpopular with Iranians who had seen their standard of living decline noticeably in the last few years.

Despite that, Iran smuggled more and more weapons to the Shia rebels of Yemen. These weapons were meant to be used for both the ongoing Yemen civil war and against targets designated by Iran. In late 2023 and into 2024 Iran ordered that ship traffic off the west, or Red Sea coast of Yemen, be attacked to halt or disrupt shipping headed through the Suez Canal. This route reduces shipping time by several weeks because the only alternative is to travel around the southern tip of Africa and up to the Gibraltar Straits into the Mediterranean or west to other Atlantic Ocean ports. Iran ordered the Yemen Shia rebels to make a maximum effort to disrupt shipping headed for the Suez Canal. Transit fees from ships using the canal are a major source for Egypt, bringing in nearly $10 billion a year. Ships passing through the Canal account for 15 percent of global maritime trade. Egypt and Iran are enemies and reducing Suez Canal income is a win for Iran, which supported the Yemen rebels for more than a decade to make that success possible.

These attacks on Red Sea shipping brought an armed response from Western navies, especially the United States and Britain, which waited for over a month before attacking the Yemen Shia rebels and their stockpiles of Iranian weapons. Even the UN approved of military operations against the disruptive Shia rebels in Yemen. In early 2024 the attacks on the Shia rebels in Yemen began and might escalate as long as the Shia rebels continue to disrupt shipping traffic in the Red Sea.

Many Yemenis trace the current crisis back to their civil war that ended, sort of, in 1994. That war was caused by the fact that, when the British left Yemen in 1967, their former colony in Aden became one of two different countries both called Yemen. The two Yemens finally united in 1990 but another civil war in 1994 was needed to seal the deal. That fix didn't really take and the north and south have been pulling apart ever since. This comes back to the fact that Yemen has always been a region, not a country. Like most of the rest of the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa region, the normal form of government until the 20th century was wealthier coastal city states nervously coexisting with interior tribes that got by on herding or farming or a little of both plus smuggling and other illicit sidelines. This whole nation idea is still looked on with some suspicion by many in the region. This is why the most common forms of government are the more familiar ones of antiquity like kingdom, emirate, or modern variation in the form of a hereditary secular dictatorship. For a long time, the most active Yemeni rebels were the Shia Islamic militants in the north. They have always wanted to restore local Shia rule in the traditional Shia tribal territories, led by the local imam religious leader. This arrangement, after surviving more than a thousand years, was ended by the central government in 1962.

While the Shia are only a third of the population, they are united while the Sunni tribes are divided over the issue of splitting the country in two and with no agreement on who would get the few oil fields in central Yemen. Many of the Sunni tribes tolerate or even support Islamic terrorist groups. The Iranian smuggling pipeline continues to operate, and the Yemen rebels were able to buy additional weapons from other sources because they received cash from nations or groups hostile to the Arab Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The Shia rebels were from northern Yemen and controlled the border with Saudi Arabia. Over the last decade the rebels launched more and more attacks on Saudi targets. The rebels obtained more powerful weapons as well, including Iranian ballistic missiles, which were disassembled so they could be smuggled from Iran to Yemen, where Iranian technicians supervised the missiles being assembled and launched into Saudi Arabia. In the last few years, the rebels have received longer range ballistic missiles that could hit Saudi and UAE oil production facilities on the Persian Gulf coast. The rebels also began firing missiles at targets passing the Yemen Red Sea coast controlled by the rebels.




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